January 24, 2021
California wildfires spread massive plumes of smoke in bleak images from space

California wildfires spread massive plumes of smoke in bleak images from space

The ESA Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite saw the massive smoke plumes generated by the fires and spread by winds.

Copernicus Sentinel (2020), processed by ESA

California is on fire and thousands of homes are under threat in the San Francisco Bay Area. The state has been setting heat records as lightning and powerful winds fuel numerous wildfires. As firefighters work on the blazes on the ground, satellites are monitoring the spread and destruction from space.

The European Space Agency shared a Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite view of California from Aug. 19 showing a massive swathe of beige smoke generated by multiple active fires.

California governor Gavin Newsom shared some startling numbers on Wednesday, saying the state had experienced 10,849 lightning strikes over the course of just 72 hours and that there were 367 known fires.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) posted a GIF from the GOES-17 satellite showing smoke stretching across the Pacific Ocean for hundreds of miles.

Satellites aren’t just documenting what goes on below. The data and imagery is used to locate and monitor fires and track them in real time. 

The National Weather Service released a GOES-W look at fire temperatures on Wednesday that highlights hot spots in vivid red and orange. 

Newsom declared a statewide emergency earlier in the week “to help ensure the availability of vital resources to combat fires burning across the state, which have been exacerbated by the effects of the historic West Coast heat wave and sustained high winds.”

Cal Fire is supplying updates on wildfire locations, containment and evacuation orders. 

The images from space are sobering, but the views from closer to ground level are even more intense. Just look at this helicopter footage from Cal Fire released on Thursday.

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